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A TV first: WPXT to air news at 7 p.m.

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                     Thursday, September 20, 2001 

                                            A TV first: WPXT to air news at 7 p.m.

                        By staff reports, 

                      Copyright  2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.                                         



Sticking with its strategy of running local newscasts at non-traditional times, Portland station WPXT (Channel 51) will launch the city's first 7 p.m. newscast on Oct. 8.   

 The half-hour local news show will feature the same anchors who currently appear on WPXT's 10 p.m. news, including Joe Palmieri and Jennifer McNeil. But the 7 p.m. program will air only on WPXT's sister station, WPME (Channel 35).   

 WPME is a separately owned station but is run by WPXT management, and the two stations often share programming.   

 WPXT will launch the news just one day after it's set to switch its network affiliation from Fox to WB. That means WPXT's prime-time shows will now be WB shows instead of Fox shows and sports -- but the rest of its programming and news will stay the same.   

 WPXT and WPME news director Kevin Kelly said WPXT's owner, Pegasus Communications of Pennsylvania, had long been looking for ways to expand the station's local news presence in Portland. Kelly said the new 7 p.m. news on WPME will be titled "Our Maine News at Seven" as a way to tie it in with WPXT's news Web site, ourmaine.com.  

 Kelly also said that WPXT's 10 p.m. news, formerly known as "Fox News at Ten" will now be "Our Maine News at Ten."  

 Kelly said the stations will get the people and resources to do a 7 p.m. news by shortening the current 10 p.m. news on WPXT -- from one hour down to 35 minutes. The 10 p.m. news will be seen on both WPXT and WPME, Kelly said.   

 "It's an interesting opportunity for us, because a lot of people are watching TV at 7 p.m., and there's no local news competition," said Kelly. "People are working later, and they're not coming home until 6 p.m. or 6:30, then they sit down to supper and 7 p.m. comes up on you awful fast."   

 All three of Portland's major network affiliates -- WCSH (Channel 6, NBC), WGME (Channel 13, CBS) and WMTW (Channel 8, ABC)  -- have 90 minutes of local news between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily. But none has another newscast until 11 p.m.  

 That means the jointly-operated WPME and WPXT news operation will have two evening newscasts with no head-to-head competition.   

 The addition of a 7 p.m. newscast is part of a national trend of non-traditional new times for affiliates of  the three newer broadcast networks -- Fox, WB and UPN. Viewers in Boston can watch local news programs at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., in addition to the usual early-evening hours.  

 Meanwhile, in the wake of WPXT's decision to drop the Fox network for undisclosed business reasons, it seems likely that most of Maine's cable TV households will still get Fox shows and sports, including the World Series and NFL football.  As of Wednesday, cable companies across the state were trying to hammer out contracts to carry the FoxNet cable channel, which provides to cable and satellite subscribers the same programming as the Fox network.  

 Time Warner, which provides cable in the Portland area, has already contracted to carry FoxNet to its 95,000 southern Maine customers, in 22 towns.  

 Managers at Adelphia, which has about 190,000 customers in northern and coastal Maine, say it's very likely their company will offer FoxNet sometime in early October.  

 The management of SusCom, which offers cable services in the Bath, Brunswick and Freeport areas is also close to an agreement.  

 Houlton Cable already offers FoxNet, and the state's only remaining cable company, BeeLine, offers FoxNet in the Millinocket area and is planning to offer it soon in the Skowhegan area.   

  Fox has not been able to find another over-the-air station to bring Fox programs to Mainers who don't have cable or satellite service, said Scott Grogin, a spokesman for Fox in Los Angeles. Even if all of Maine's 317,000 cable households get the FoxNet channel, which appears likely, thousands of Mainers will still be without Fox programming.  

 Nielsen Media Research has estimated that about 25 percent of households in southern Maine don't have cable, and the number is thought by TV station managers to be higher in other parts of the state.     

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com